The most admired governor in recent Illinois history surely is Jim Edgar. The moderate Republican held office from 1991 through 1998. We then had two horrible governors; no need to go into that again. Now we have Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who spent 30 years as a political activist tilting at windmills. Quinn’s honest and a decent fellow, but he’s now in charge of the windmill factory and hasn’t quite figured out how to operate it.

The most admired governor in recent Illinois history surely is Jim Edgar. The moderate Republican held office from 1991 through 1998. We then had two horrible governors; no need to go into that again.

Now we have Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who spent 30 years as a political activist tilting at windmills. Quinn’s honest and a decent fellow, but he’s now in charge of the windmill factory and hasn’t quite figured out how to operate it.

So, the candidate in 2010 who can convince people he knows how to run the governor’s office should have a decent shot at winning, right?

Maybe, maybe not, but one candidate is touting his experience working for Edgar: Kirk Dillard, a state senator and lawyer from Hinsdale. He was Edgar’s chief of staff in the governor’s first term. Dillard is playing the Edgar card seriously, touting his experience running an office of professional adults who put the people’s interest above party politics.

Dillard said his first job for Edgar was to help figure out how to shrink a $1.6 billion debt inherited from Jim Thompson’s 16-year reign. (Dillard also worked for Thompson.)

He said they turned the debt into a $1 billion surplus while increasing education funding, cutting in other areas and hiring innovative managers to run departments. The Edgar administration also put Illinois’ pension plan on the road to solvency, a road that Rod Blagojevich and Quinn abandoned.

But Edgar also made permanent Thompson’s “temporary” income tax increase. Dillard is not advocating a tax increase, saying it’s the last thing we should do. But in an interview at the News Tower he didn’t make a “no, nay, never” statement on taxes, either.

“I’m the one person that has the right temperament and experience to be able to fix this state, both in terms of restoring our pride, and our budget problems, and I’ll try to do it without a tax increase,” he said.

I asked him if that is possible.

“I believe it is. You certainly don’t talk about raising taxes until you’ve done what I’ve suggested, calling in business leaders (and) the Civic Federation, which has clearly shown an interest in the state budget.” Dillard wants these civic and business leaders to help him comb through the budget to look for possible savings.

“The last thing you do is to only talk about raising taxes. Businesses aren’t going to come here until they know whether we are going to increase income taxes,” Dillard said.

Fundamental to restoring Illinois’ fiscal health is the ability to attract new businesses and keep existing businesses, Dillard said. Illinois is near the bottom of the barrel in job creation. Jobs are leaving Illinois for more favorable business conditions in surrounding states. “I’m going to chase down and court business everyday. We’re not going to demonize business like Rod Blagojevich,” Dillard said.

Dillard says Illinois over-regulates business and has an overly expensive workers’ compensation program. He would use tax incentives to lure firms here, but not cash.

Dillard would also save money by changing Medicaid to a managed care system.

“Medicaid is the largest expenditure in the state. We spend more on Medicaid than education. We’re one of the few states without a managed care program. Folks can go to an emergency room for $3,000 in costs to the taxpayers,” he said. Managed care would concentrate more on preventive care and treatment by doctors in clinics.

“You’ll have better health care with managed care,” he said.

Rockford Register Star Senior Editor Chuck Sweeny can be reached at (815) 987-1366 or csweeny@rrstar.com.